Upset over long waits, asylum seekers abandon Juarez camp, rush US border, official says

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Only a hardy few remain in tents, face new challenge of being told to apply in Guatemala first

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — A migrant camp has been abandoned, as the Mexican families waiting there went home, moved to shelters or decided to rush the U.S. border, a Juarez city official said.

The camp at the Chamizal Park at one time held as many as 1,200 asylum seekers whose ranks began to thin as freezing weather set in and patience ran low over the long waits to be allowed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to apply for asylum in the United States.

The last camp residents left around New Year’s Day, many of them being taken into custody by Border Patrol agents at the Rio Grande, said Rogelio Pinal, director of Juarez’s Human Rights office.

“In the past few days some people incited others — who were tired of waiting to be called by CBP — to just get across the river. This, in contrast to those who have been waiting to present themselves in an orderly manner, at an authorized port of entry,” Pinal said. “Those who crossed the river illegally called the others and told them, ‘I made to Chicago, I made it to California, I made it to Los Angeles, I will continue my process from here.'”

Word spread and the camp emptied, as did a second camp near the Zaragoza International Bridge, where on Tuesday only 12 people remained, Pinal said. A third camp south of the Paso del Norte port of entry to El Paso still holds about 50 people, the Mexican official said.

A Border Patrol spokesman said agents in the El Paso Sector make multiple apprehensions daily, so it’s hard to say how many have come from the Juarez camps.

“At the moment that illegal aliens give up to Border Patrol and we identify ourselves, we look to identify country of origin, who they are traveling with — family groups — what is their current state healthwise and then transport (them) to processing facilities to begin processing,” said the spokesman, Acting Supervisory Agent Mario Escalante.

A Mexican migrant girl, left, rides a bike by drying laundry near a tent encampment in a public park on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, in Juarez. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio) At right, the migrant camp that once held 1,200 people has been abandoned. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Pinal said it has been sad to see the migrants abandon “an orderly process” and just rush the border thinking that’s the fastest way to get their day in immigration court.

“It seems we are rewarding people who favor illegality over those who want to wait their turn. We should give them more support, treat them better. Otherwise, it will lead to other migrants who arrive here opting to cross the river … violating international law and the rights of the country they are entering, and that will have the consequence of exposing them to deportation,” Pinal said.

Jesus A., a migrant who came to Juarez — his wife and two children in tow — fleeing criminals in Morelia, Michoacan, said it’s been a hard two months sleeping on the sidewalk or under a tent near the Paso del Norte port of entry.

He said he’s aware many of his peers have given up, but he’s all in on waiting to be allowed to apply for asylum rather than try to make a run past Border Patrol agents at the river.

“They say it’s hard (to get approved), they say they want to send us to Guatemala, but I hope those are just rumors,” Jesus said. On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that “certain Mexicans seeking humanitarian protections” in the United States would be eligible for transfer to Guatemala, where they can seek protection under the Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement.

Jesus said he would not go to Guatemala, but cannot afford to return to Michoacan, either.

“They tried to kidnap my wife, and when she ran away they came back and threatened to harm our children. … We don’t have much but we live in a marginated neighborhood. There is a lot of crime,” he said.

Only a few tents remain standing at a sidewalk migrant camp near the Paso del Norte Bridge in Juarez, Mexico. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Another head of household who identified himself only as “Chalio,” said he, too, has been waiting for two months to be called up by CBP. “I hope they call me soon. We can’t live like this much longer,” he said, pointing to a tent along the sidewalk where his wife and five children spend many days and nights.

He said seeking asylum in Guatemala is out of the question. “Who would go there? It’s worse than Mexico,” he said. “We left because of the criminals in our country, we want to live in a better place, not a more dangerous place.”

A couple of hours after being interviewed by Border Report, the few remaining migrants at the Paso del Norte and Zaragoza bridge camps were taken to shelters by the Mexican government.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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